International travel can sometimes be a very stressful activity. You want to make sure you’ve followed all the rules and regulations. You have your boarding passes and your luggage packed carefully. Not too heavy, not too light. Despite being a small and incredibly non-threatening figure, I get a lot of anxiety when someone is examining my passport. I tried to do everything right, but did I succeed? Will I get to go to my friend’s timeshare in Aruba? Did I buy all those flip-flops for nothing?
Adventure can be hard sometimes. When paperwork gets involved, it can even seem daunting. But if you have all of your ducks in a row, getting a passport should be no problem! Here are some common passport FAQ that new international travelers should be familiar with.
What is a passport for?
A passport is a document that allows the holder to travel internationally. It is also occasionally used as a means of identification, and often more trusted than other forms of ID. A passport is absolutely necessary for travel to or from the U.S.
Where do I get a passport?
According to the U.S. Passport Service Guide, you can apply for a passport at a passport office, though they usually require a scheduled appointment beforehand. If you need an expedited passport, or if this is your first passport ever, you should apply in person.
The U.S. State Department at travel.state.gov states that otherwise you can mail your passport paperwork to the closest National Passport Processing Center. Through USPS, of course.
If you are getting a new passport or a passport for a child, you will need the DS-11 form.
If you are renewing your passport, you will need the DS-82 form.
If you are changing your passport info, such as spelling or name change, you will need the DS-5504 form.
How much does it cost?
For a child’s passport book (DS-11), the application fee is $80 and the processing fee is $25. For an adult’s first passport (DS-11), the application fee is $110 and the processing fee is $25. For an adult passport renewal (DS-82), the application fee is $110 and there is no processing fee.
For expedited service there is an additional $60 fee.
What do I need to bring with me to get a passport?
You will need a completed DS- form, which you can download from travel.state.gov. They have form-fillable PDF versions, as well as versions that you can fill out by hand.
You will also need evidence of U.S. citizenship such as a valid, expired U.S. passport, a U.S. birth certificate, a consular report of Birth Abroad, a certificate of naturalization, or a certificate of citizenship. Any one of these official documents will do.
The passport office will also require a photocopy of the front and back of your chosen document to keep for their files.
At the passport office, you will need to present ID, such as an undamaged U.S. passport, a driver’s license, a certificate of naturalization or citizenship, a government employee ID, a U.S. military or military-dependent ID, a valid foreign passport or Mexican Consular Identification. Naturally, they will require a photocopy of the front and back of your ID as well.
You need to provide a passport photo meeting U.S. passport photo requirements, such as sizing, background and facial expression.
If you have a special circumstance, such as a family emergency overseas, you might also need accompanying paperwork. Take a look at the comprehensive list of special circumstance documents at travel.state.gov.
How do passport photographs work?
It is not really recommended to take a passport photo yourself, as the rules and regulations are so strict. Some post offices and pharmacies offer passport photo services.
Fortunately, AAA also offers passport photo services at their many branch locations, making the process much easier for AAA members.
In a passport photo, your head must be facing the camera with a neutral facial expression. You cannot be taking up too much or too little of the frame, and you must be wearing “neutral clothing.”
You have to be standing in front of a plain white background, with no glasses and no non-religious hat or head coverings. The shadows can’t even be too extreme.
The photo must have been taken within the past six months, and it must be printed in color. The dimensions are 2 x 2 inches.
Can I retake my picture?
The only way to change the photo on your passport is to renew your entire passport with a DS-82 form and a new picture.
Usually you don’t have to change your picture unless your appearance has really drastically changed since the time of the last photo. Unless you turn purple or fall into a vat of radioactive slime, most physical changes over the course of 10 years are considered very minor by Border Patrol agents.
What passport services does AAA offer?
As I noted above, AAA branch offices have passport and immigration photo services, with special pricing for AAA members.
Though AAA does not issue passports or process passport applications, DS- forms are available at all branch offices.
How long does it take to get a passport?
It takes approximately 6-8 weeks for routine service.
Can I rush my passport to get it faster?
For about $60, you can order expedited service. The word “expedited” is being used pretty generously here; it just means that it will take approximately 2 – 3 weeks. To try and get it even faster, make an appointment to expedite it in person at a passport center.
In the case of what the U.S. State Department calls “Life or Death Emergencies,” such as illness, injury or death in your immediate family, you can get a passport even faster. If this emergency requires you to travel outside the U.S. within 72 hours, your passport application can be fast-tracked all the way through the process. You still have to do all of the paperwork, and you have to present proof of the emergency.
Stay away from paying a private company to expedite your passport for you. Nine times out of ten, they’re scams that take just as long as the normal process. The fastest way to get a passport is to do so in person at your region’s passport agency.
How long does my passport last?
If you were 15 or younger when you received it, it will last 5 years.
If you were 16 or older when you received it, it will last 10 years.
How do I correct or change information on my passport?
If you require a correction in assigned gender, you must re-apply using form DS-11. You will need to present photo ID, a new passport photo, proof of your legal name change and a medical certificate that states you are either in the process of transitioning or have already transitioned.
If you are changing your name, you must re-apply using form DS-5504. You will need to present your old passport, an original or certified document of your name change, and a new passport photo.
To correct a data or printing error, you must use form DS-5504. You will need your incorrect passport, a passport photo, and evidence of error. There are usually no fees to correct such errors.
Does my child need a passport for international travel?
Yes. It does not matter how old they are. They need one.
Both parents must be present to sign the passport application, or the absent parent or guardian can sign a statement of consent. The child also needs to appear with the parents in person for the application.
Do I need a passport to go to Mexico or Canada?
Yes. You need a passport for international travel even within North America. You can also use a passport card if you are travelling by land or sea.
What is a passport card?
A passport card is a smaller and less expensive version of a passport. It is about the same size as a driver’s license. It is meant for people who live near borders and regularly have to cross them. Passport cards are only applicable for travel to and from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Bermuda. They cannot be used on any international flights – only by land or sea.
What happens if my passport gets stolen or lost while abroad?
Contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and tell the consular officer about your lost or stolen passport. Provide staff with your travel details so that they can help you get a new passport. Click here for more tips on dealing with travel mishaps.
You will need a new passport photo, ID, evidence of U.S. citizenship, a travel itinerary, a DS-11 passport application, a DS-64 statement regarding a lost or stolen passport, a police report if available or applicable and the normal passport fees.
For more passport FAQ and information on international travel, visit AAA.com/Passport.